‘Divided us with lies and misinformation’: Rideau Lakes councillors split on decision to allow delegation

The Township of Rideau Lakes regular meeting of the municipal services committee on May 13 had a delegate, Wendy Alford (back to the screen), from the opinion-based Rideau Lakes Grassroots Group speak about their mission. – Laurie Weir screengrab

It wasn’t a warm welcome for one delegate during a regular community services meeting in Rideau Lakes on Monday, May 13.

After a lengthy debate to decide whether a member of the Rideau Lakes Grassroots Group (RLGG) could speak as a delegate, council finally allowed it.

Coun. Paula Banks didn’t want them to speak at all and requested that they be removed from the agenda.

“It’s unusual that we do not allow delegations to speak,” Mayor Arie Hogenboom retorted.

Banks said she has maintained all along that this is a divisive group and only targeting five council members – all the newest councillors from the last municipal election.

“They have done this since we turned down the hub (Portland Hub project), and we announced our intentions to rebuild the hall and library in Portland and to retrofit this office,” she said.

Banks said the group has “attacked us nonstop,” be that in the media, on social media and via emails.

“We’ve let this go long enough,” she said, as they’re investigating other allegations that councillors have been helping the group with flyer distributions that support the group.

“I’d like to defer this delegation … until we find out the exact involvement of the two council members we have recently found out were involved in supporting this group, and if in fact the blue flyers – which I’ve been told came out of this office, in fact did,” she said.

Coun. Jeff Banks (husband of Paula Banks) said he’s having trouble with allowing the delegation to go forward.

“It’s insignificant, it’s immaterial, and it’s inappropriate,” he said. “They have lied and accused staff and five councillors of wrongdoing; they’ve assaulted a councillor at this table, (part of an integrity commissioner investigation in Code of Conduct breaches by Coun. Paula Banks, to which she pled guilty), and they’ve divided us with lies and misinformation.”

As J. Banks continued to speak, he addressed the mayor directly.

“I’m losing confidence in you by allowing this on the agenda,” he said, and with all the issues that have happened over the past five months, “we’re losing control. This is rubbing salt into the wound and it has to stop.”

J. Banks said he’s been dealing with this for so long and it’s unprecedented.

The mayor shot back that what was unprecedented was not allowing a delegation to speak.

“And I had nothing to do with arranging this delegation or requesting this delegation,” Hoogenboom said. “This delegation came through staff and staff had no opportunity to deny members of the public to be a delegation.”

Coun. Joan Delaney agreed with the mayor, saying the public should be able to have a delegation. “We’re changing the rules all the time around here,” she said, “trying to block the public from certain meetings or certain events. I don’t think that’s a good way to be.”

Coun. Deborah Anne Hutchings touted freedom of speech, but she was not amused to be included as one of the five councillors that the RLGG refers to.

“I have my own brain,” she said. “I am supposed to respect everybody and honour you (the mayor) and I’m trying really hard to do what’s right with everybody.”

Coun. Marcia Maxwell said denying freedom of speech “is not the way to go, and I think denying it is only going to aggravate the situation even more with the public. They do have a right to voice their opinion, and it may not always be what we want to hear, like or agree with.”

The meeting was at a standstill before an adoption of the agenda was finally passed. After reconsidering, it moved forward as amended and the RLGG delegate was able to speak.

Wendy Alford spoke on behalf of RLGG. According to their website, the group is “a growing group of 70+ concerned citizens from throughout the Township of Rideau Lakes (who) are disturbed with the decisions of the current council who often disregard the well-founded advice of Rideau Lakes staff — especially on material financial matters.”

As she stepped to the podium, the mayor said he’d cut her off if he felt she was attacking anyone at the table.

Alford said they – she, along with fellow spokespersons, Dan Berty and Howard French – were there to speak of the genesis and mission of the group.

She said they were there as a group because “councillors have made misleading statements, have some misinformation, and have relied on some assumptions and have also made some accusations of the nature of our group.”

She spoke of the May 6 meeting, where she said Coun. P. Banks referred to the group as a “hate group and falsely accused our group of physical and other forms of harassment.”

During that May 6 meeting, P. Banks was issuing an apology regarding the integrity commissioner’s report. It was then that she asked council to reconsider giving her a 21-day pay suspension as recommended by the commissioner. Councillors did eventually vote to approve the pay suspension.

P. Banks said she was guilty of using foul language in an email. “I had originally pled guilty to the entire report in the hopes that the Rideau Lakes Grassroots Group would stop their harassment. But that is not happening,” she said on May 6. “Now members are claiming that I personally redirected grants and Trillium funds from the Ron E. Holman Centre (i.e., from the pickleball court development), which is just another one of their outrageous lies. This could have easily been fact checked if it mattered to them in the least.”

P. Banks further stated on May 6 that in her defense, she acted out of desperation, “due to the inaction of some on council to denounce this ‘hate group’ and the undermining the majority of council.”

Back to Monday …

Alford said the group felt that they couldn’t let the mention by P. Banks that they were a “hate group” to go unchallenged and that was the reason they submitted a request for a delegation.
After quoting from the Charter of Rights, she spoke about the formation of the community group.

“In August of 2023 at our first in-person meeting of the RLGG, residents from across the township decided to create a group that would act as a voice for the broader community and the Rideau Lakes Grassroots Group was born.”

Alford said they take direction from no one and they are self-funded and self-managed. They have grown to have a website now and social media page where they share their thoughts, positions and opinions online.

“Councillors are expected to communicate with the public with civility and to listen to all points of view with an open mind,” she said.

After some allegations flew around the horseshoe again, Alford said she wasn’t taking any questions, “because it wouldn’t result in a productive exchange.”

Hoogenboom said there have always been critics of the mayor or members of council and this group is probably no different, “but it is the council that is the voice of the community. It’s not one particular group or individual.”

The mayor said the RLGG is an opinion group that is “free to challenge, or criticize me or members of council based on the decisions that we make.”

Hoogenboom asked that they monitor their social media posts.

“Social media is a wonderful tool but it needs to be fair and it needs to be appropriate,” he said. “How well we do our jobs will be decided by the public at the next election.”

For more on this meeting visit the Township of Rideau Lakes council meeting page.

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